Giving mouth to Georgia’s trade unions02.03.2010 | 22:43
A trade union rally was held in Tbilisi without much fuss. Economic demands of employees were outshone by the change in pre-election configuration of the opposition. What role trade unions play in the country's policy in light of coming local elections and which politicians reckon with their opinion was what GeorgiaTimes correspondent tried to find out.
The start of the week in Tbilisi was marked with a march of trade union activists from Rose Revolution square to the parliament building. As the Association of Trade Unions informed GeorgiaTimes nearly 8 thousand Georgians dissatisfied with their situation took part in the action.
The demonstrators demanded same things like a year ago at a similar rally.
Teachers called for increase in salaries, compensations for refugee teachers and most importantly cancellation of mandatory certification recently invented by Mikheil Saakashvili's government.
Doctors complained about harmful reforms in medical sphere: starting from abolishment of free health care to privatization of all medical institutions. "Things are rolling back now. Salaries are low, they are not paid for months", - they lamented.
On behalf of the students trade unions called to annul high penalties for repeatedly taken exams and create a valid employment program. On behalf of pensioners there was a demand to raise pensions to USD 100 (GEL 170) Saakashvili had promised two years before. The country's poverty level is GEL 128 while the amount of pension is GEL 85. Even extra GEL 10 introduced yesterday in Tbilisi will not change the pitiful state of elderly people.
It is remarked in the Association of Trade Unions of Georgia that the social background is getting worse each day: the level of unemployment goes up, rights of the working people are constantly violated, taxes on utilities increase as well as commodity prices, Medianews reports.
As Irakli Petriashvili, chairman of the Association of Trade Unions of Georgia stated at the demonstration the parliament must start amending the Labor Code within 10 days' time. Otherwise trade unions will start a country-wide strike.
However, so far the trade union movement has not organized radical actions. The amendments to the Labor Code, as Nodar Kokiashvili, senior analyst with the Association of Trade Unions of Georgia told GeorgiaTimes were ready last year but business community froze them.
- Employers believe that if working conditions are radically improved the country's economic situation will get worse. In general they agree that the Labor Code must be amended not wanting novelties right now. They directly say this constricts rights of employers, deteriorates conditions for doing business and stipulated guarantees for employees will lead to higher net cost of products, outflow of investments from the country and will have a negative effect on economic restoration and crisis negotiation. Their standard logic is this: investments eagerly flow to places with cheap working force and more freedom for entrepreneurs. As decided the work will be continued in 2010 - the issue will not be taken off the agenda.
- But recommendations on amendments to the law were given by Western organizations last year...
- Exactly, our code's incompatibility with the European law was the subject of special addresses. The European Commission wrote about that in US Department of State's report on protection of human rights in 2008.
- Do you put up with the opinion of employers and will wait for a favorable moment to introduce amendments?
- No, it's not an "I said so - it will be so" situation. Consent of all parties was not reached, and the issue is postponed for future meetings. Besides on November 12 2009 a new trilateral commission (employers - trade unions - government - ed) was established. Now the structures for talks are being formed. We will take part in sessions on parity basis to seek consent of all sides.
- Over the last year have there been demands of trade unions that were met - apart from the work on the Labor Code?
- Well, most our demands are directly connected with the Labor Code. There were independent draft laws on the volume of unemployment allowance, dismissal compensation rise, maternity compensation rise, guarantees for employees on fixed-term contracts, proposals to amend management of collective contracts. But these drafts have not been considered yet. These are complicated issues. For instance, in Russia entrepreneurs also call to abrogate payment of monetary compensations since it's directly connected with employee expenses. Now all countries are doing their best to cut these expenses. There is violation of employees' rights everywhere. Dismissals, unpaid holidays, things like that are common everywhere, even in Western countries.
The opposition that plans to resume protest rallies in May and run for the posts of mayors in Tbilisi and other regions must definitely take advantage of trade unions' activity and people's discontent. However, as it turned out, political parties don't seem to be willing to cooperate with trade union leaders.